by Jerry ElengicalSep 08, 2021
The landscape of residential architecture in the Indian subcontinent continues to see rapid transformation at the hand of emergent, design-conscious practices, partly in response to the rapid emulation of residences, now commonly called the “builder system”. This implementation of the Bokanovsky process on houses, places of residence, bears immense significance (and economic sense) in tier I and II cities in India, and that is precisely where a silent movement seems to have emerged. Like an oasis in a desert, a single residence rises from amid hordes of identical blocks, almost declaring design as its salvatore. Apart from being a testing ground for sensitive architecture, this landscape also has a distinct, almost enviable added advantage, though nascent: that of context, history, and layers upon layers of differential degrees of urbanisation. It is also perhaps testament to the fact that innovation is born from necessity, as is showcased in this grounded modern residence on a roughly 150 square meter plot of land in the western Indian city of Ahmedabad.
“We were careful from the beginning to recreate the intangible spirit of an old city house, not a photogenic collage of its vintage charm,” states the lead architect for Ahmedabad-based UA Design, Umang Goswami, on their primal inspiration in designing the house. Rather than relocating from the old city in Ahmedabad, now India’s first UNESCO heritage city, the clients for the residence preferred razing the structure to rebuild from scratch, rendering a clear design brief for the architects. A number of other spatial considerations for the design come from the dynamics at play in an Indian family: the need for conjugal spaces to meet and gather, yet private quarters nestled on the floors above, sit out spaces, and an overall feeling of the house being more spacious than its limited footprint allowed.
Housing three generations of the family in three floors above the ground, the house is conceived as a stack of shifting floor plates that indulge in a playful chemistry with each other. This manifests especially in the façade and exterior of the home, providing sharp, angular embellishments at each floor level in the form of these rotating corners jutting out, lending an inbred sheath to an essentially cuboidal volume. Its somber external material palette packages slightly jagged volumes and frames. Additionally, the elaborately detailed system of windows on the south façade is a nearly abstract albeit rooted interpretation of the region’s vernacular expression. From the street, the compound wall and bright yellow coloured gate serve as sculptural sights of their own, bearing the geometric abstractions inspired by vernacular Indian art. “The idea was to build a modern house that belonged, not an alien ship,” state the architects' team for the project, comprising Vaishakhi S Mehta, Bhavesh Mevada, and Naitri Soni, apart from Goswami himself.
From a tiny green buffer separating it from the street outside, the house opens up into a welcoming double height space as soon as one enters. The ground serves as a shared space with a living area, dining, kitchen, and an open to sky sit-out. Making the most of its limited space, the house looks to its vertical avenues for spatial extrapolation: the living room walls stretch up till the lintel level to form horizontal strip windows, right under the first-floor ceiling. Tracing the eye along the room, these windows allow the interiors to capture lush green crowns of trees outside, and its foliage, screening the street that may be a less than charming avenue at times. A sense of “seamlessness and an illusion of largeness” is thus created, according to the architects at UADesign.
The partially introverted residential quarters are housed on the floors upwards, connected to the ground floor through a folded plate staircase, guiding visitors up through pops of colour in its stride. The stairwell also screens the harsh west sun. Partially open to the outside on landings, the black kadappa stone cladding the steps and hardwood used in railings and window frames soften the incoming sunlight into the stairwell, allowing the heat to travel upwards through a veritable application of the stack effect. Thoughtful use of mild steel, local kota stone, and teak wood round out the Play House’s material palette, highlighted whimsically by the use of glazed ceramic tiles in pop colours, serving an essential contrast from the extensive usage of exposed concrete.
Modern interpretations of vernacular elements in the house’s interiors, including a suspended bed, an Indian diwan seating, a suspended swing within the bedroom, and a modern jharokha package the space into a nostalgic love letter to a bygone era of simpler homes and communal living. “What differentiates big from small, is when every corner, every moment, and every act can become an act of play in the house,” opine the architects on what defines the very spirit of Play House.